February 7, 2012

Modern Waterside Retreat Shines Brightly

Minimalist gem looks out on some of the region’s most stunning vistas


Since arriving here from Ontario nine years ago, Margot and Donald Nightingale have bought three houses — each about 1,000 square feet smaller than the one before. Like Goldilocks, they now have a home that’s just right for them. The dreamy, contemporary house, designed by Rus Collins of Zebra Design, clings limpet-like to a shore in Victoria.

It all started when they noticed a house for sale. “We originally thought we might restore it, but when we started adding everything up, it seemed better to build a completely new house,” said Margot, who retired as dean of Queen’s University School of Business in Kingston, Ont. The couple started construction 2½ years ago and finished eight months later.

“We know that delays and indecision cost money, so we didn’t want to make a lot of changes or seek any variances. My husband and I are quick decision-makers,” said Margot, whose husband has a PhD in psychology and is founding director of the Queen’s Executive Development Centre. He still travels and teaches extensively in the Middle East and Russia and was away for three months during construction. That, too, saved time, she said with a chuckle, because there was little or no discussion. One of their first decisions was this — if they were to have a modern house, they would go all the way and not just take a few tentative steps in a contemporary direction.

That’s evident in the minimal mouldings and facings, open plan, high doors and ceilings, extensive use of glass and see-through staircase. Another critical instruction to their designer was to let nothing obstruct the panoramas. “We love the water, watching people go by on surf and paddle boards, the big ships, sailboats, kayaks. We wanted the view to be it,” Margot said. And it is.

One of her first pieces of business before moving into this house was to purge excess furniture that didn’t harmonize with the contemporary ambience. “It was hard getting rid of things with sentimental value, but I love the lighter feeling now. We made a rule: Every single room, and everything in it, had to be well used — or else have a very esthetic value in its own right.”

Her mint-condition kitchen is smaller than her last and all white, with wood accents. Zebra interior designer Lorin Turner helped with material and colour choices. “We didn’t have the whole house done and she didn’t take over, but she has a wonderful eye for colour and is terrific at giving advice,” Margot said. Turner said she and Margot “did the divide and conquer thing,” combining lots of ideas from both of them. “Because the view was the focus, we kept things light and bright inside, with a soft colour palette, simple lines and styles.”

White Caesarstone quartz was used throughout, on all countertops and the fireplace, and there are no window coverings except in the master bedroom. Here, they chose a traditional curtain style with a big sea-blue band at the bottom — and blackout shades behind, as the room faces east. This is the first house the owners had built, although they have renovated four kitchens in the past. Designer Rus Collins said the owners of this home made the right decision to tear down the old house and build new.

“It’s a hard decision, but if your reno will touch 90 per cent of the house, you should probably tear it down.” He said another recent reno involving masses of work inside and out, still made sense because it saved the owners $100,000 in framing. And there are always exceptions, as in the case of an older classic house. “It may not be as cost effective to renovate in that case, but some owners may make a conscious decision to keep a house because it’s in an older, established area and they want to retain the neighbourhood character.”

Victoria Times Colonist

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